The European Union got the final go-ahead Tuesday to expand its anti-migrant smuggling operation in the Mediterranean Sea, allowing it to take on the additional tasks of training Libya's coastguard and helping to enforce a UN arms embargo.
Ambassadors of the EU's 28 member states authorized the launch of the naval mission's new operational areas at talks in Brussels.
The EU set up the operation, code-named Operation Sophia, last year to patrol international waters off Libya and arrest suspected migrant smugglers. It says it has so far rescued more than 22,000 people and contributed to the arrest of 87 suspected smugglers.
The new training task will kick off with up to 100 senior Libyan coastguard officials who will be trained for 14 weeks on board a vessel in international waters, and possibly later in Libyan waters, operation commander Rear Admiral Enrico Credendino said last week.
The EU hopes this will help curb the flow of illegal migrants across the Mediterranean.
A political vacuum in Libya, which has no functional border police, has allowed the country to become a springboard for people trying to reach the European Union, with 100,000 people crossing the sea this year alone.
The enforcement of the arms embargo, meanwhile, will allow Operation Sophia to inspect and seize suspicious vessels.
The Mediterranean is thought to be a trafficking route for weapons supplies to the Islamic State extremist group, which has gained a foothold in Libya.
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